So much of what we write can be boiled down.
Did he nod his head? Of course he did. What else could he nod? Perhaps he shook his head side to side. Is there any other way to shake his head? You might have heard someone say he paced the floor, but trim the superfluous words when you write. He couldn’t pace anything but the surface beneath him. And how about the nape of her neck? Nape is defined as the back of the neck.
The professional writer is going to have to say things in as few words as possible.
The professional writer needs to say things in as few words as possible. [or] The professional writer needs to use concise language.
|BECAUSE, SINCE OR WHY||ALTHOUGH, THOUGH, EVEN THOUGH OR DESPITE|
|ABOUT||IF OR WHEN|
- the question as to whether → whether
- there is no doubt but that → no doubt (doubtless)
- at the earliest possible date → soon or as soon as possible
- arrived at the conclusion → concluded
- call your attention to the fact that → remind you (notify you)
- the fact that he had not succeeded → his failure
- are in receipt of → have or have received
- ask the question → ask
- in a selfish manner → selfishly
- In order to → to
Defining tags like there are, who is, which was are unnecessary, as well as passive. Cutting them will tighten the prose and improves its pace.
His brother, who was a soldier that served in Iraq… → His brother, a soldier who served in Iraq…
The Empire State building, which once was the tallest skyscraper in New York… → The Empire State building, once the tallest…
- this is a subject that → this subject
- he is a man who → he
- there is a dog that → the dog
- His story is a strange one.→ His story is strange.
Replace It is important that… It is necessary that… There is a need that… with must.
It is important that he attend the meeting. → He must attend the meeting.
Substitute is able to… is in a position to… has the opportunity to… with can.
He is in a position to attend the meeting. → He can attend the meeting.
|MAY and MIGHT are not the same. Might expresses possibility, while may requests or grants permission.|
The same applies for It is possible that… or There is a chance that… Replace these with might or perhaps.
He might attend… Remember, may and might are not interchangeable. He may attend… is incorrect, unless someone is voicing what is allowable.
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
What Out for Structural Wordiness
James Thurber coined the term which-mire for a sentence congested with which clauses. Even a young Ernest Hemingway found himself neck-deep in which-mire. The sentence to trouble began with:
“It was the one thing of which, being very much afraid—for whom has not been warned to fear such things—he …”
But Hemingway scratched the attempt, and then skirted the morass in the terse, Hemingway-esque style we recognize:
“He was afraid of one thing. This was the one thing. He had been warned to fear such things. Everybody has been warned to fear such things.”
An easy way to fall into wordiness is to present a single complex idea, step by step, in a series of sentences that might be combined into one.
Macbeth was ambitious. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan. He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king.
Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth achieved his ambition and realized the prediction of the witches by murdering Duncan and becoming king of Scotland in his place.
To be inundated is to be overwhelmed by a wave, and to be redundant is to be overflowing, unnecessarily wordy, tautologous, overabundant, excessive, or using too many synonyms in a single definition.